Thrifty Food Plan Update Brings us One Step Closer to Food Equity
August 16, 2021
by Paula Reichel, MPA, Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & Senior Advisor, Partnership for a Healthier America
Today, the USDA announced the most significant update to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) Thrifty Food Plan since its inception, raising benefit levels by 21% to reflect the current cost of a nutritious, practical, and cost effective diet. The Thrifty Food Plan calculates SNAP benefit levels based on the number of individuals in a household, the cost of food, current dietary guidelines, and other measures. Introduced in 1975, the Thrifty Food Plan was last updated fifteen years ago. This increase is the largest in its history.
There are few things that remain constant over fifteen years, and the cost of food and ability to prepare healthy foods is not one of them. A recent USDA survey showed that 88% percent of SNAP participants faced challenges in eating a healthier diet, with 61% indicating cost was the greatest barrier, particularly the cost of produce and lean protein. In our Good Food for All program, we have uncovered remarkably similar findings. The biggest barrier to people eating more vegetables and fruit has been cost, but 50% of participants indicated they would be willing to pay at least the wholesale price of the food. This dispels the longstanding myth that there is “no willingness to pay” for produce among low-income consumers, instead suggesting significant unmet demand. “This program has been vital to us,” said Good Food for All program participant Peggy Suebaca. “We are always struggling to find healthy options, especially being low income.”
The cost of good food keeps low-income families from introducing health-building foods that their kids might not like right away. Research has shown that low-income parents or caregivers are less likely to purchase vegetables and fruits given the financial risk of food rejection. We know from our Veggies Early & Often Campaign that it can take a child as many as 8-15 exposures to a vegetable or fruit to develop a taste for it. This is particularly true for vegetables. If the risk of loss is too great, kids can grow up without being given the opportunity to learn about and love vegetables and fruit. This plus ready access to cheap, unhealthy highly processed prepared foods sets them up for a lifetime of struggle with obesity and diet-related disease and perpetuates the deep food inequity we see today.
At PHA, we know people of all incomes want to eat good food and they are willing to pay for it. The challenge is that the market is just not making that an affordable choice. We applaud the USDA for taking this major step in remedying this disparity. However, there is still so much that needs to be done to transform the food landscape. Food equity is at the heart of education, employment, and well-being. If we build on changes like this it is not hard to envision that, fifteen to twenty years from now, all Americans will have ready access to affordable good food and that food no longer keeps people from reaching their full potential.